What is your favorite racetrack tradition?
Horse racing has a rich history. Every track has its legends, both human and equine. Many racetracks also have traditions that make them unique.
So, let's look at some favorite traditions. Some are at bigger tracks, some are at smaller tracks. They're deliberately all off the beaten path of the biggest races, like the Kentucky Derby or the Breeders' Cup. Get to know them, and then let us know which one is your favorite!
Coffee at the Quarter Chute Cafe (Emerald Downs)
At every track, fans and friends congratulate the connections of stakes winners. But where else do stakes winners treat the racetrack community to a cup of coffee after the big win? That's the tradition at the Quarter Chute Cafe, the restaurant on the backside of Emerald Downs.
A few days after each stakes at the track, the winners will buy everyone coffee, all morning long. Sally Steiner, who runs the cafe with her husband, Joe, draws a picture of the winning horse on an open manila folder, including beautiful hand lettering of the names of the horses and the connections. And she thanks them for carrying on this tradition that has lived since the days of Longacres.
Puss n Boots Cup (Fort Erie)
Many tracks have stakes races named after beloved local racehorses. Few are as quirky as Puss n Boots.
As a two-year-old, clear on the lead in a turf race, Puss n Boots decided to jump the hedge and bolt into the infield. He couldn't stop himself in time and went right into the deepest lake in the infield. His trainer and jockey both ran to the lake, but neither could swim. The starting gate crew could, and thanks to them, everyone got home safely.
Puss n Boots went on to become a stakes winner at Fort Erie two years later, when he took the Niagara S. Every September, Fort Erie runs a stakes in his honor, restricted to horses who have run at least twice during that year's local meet. After the race, after they smile for the camera in the winners' circle, the winning jockey and trainer take a traditional jump into the infield pond! The horse does not join them.
The Saratoga Bell
You know you're watching Saratoga, when the races are periodically punctuated by the insistent clanging of a bell.
The bell in the Saratoga winners' circle rings at a very specific time — seven strikes, seventeen minutes before post.
In 2021, it's easy to tell when to be ready to saddle up horses for the next race. We have loudspeakers, television screens, and smartphones. But Saratoga predates all of these, so that bell alerted trainers and grooms that they needed to finish getting their horses ready for the race and let jockeys know it wouldn't be too long until riders up.
Now the bell is a periodic reminder for fans to bask in Saratoga's history.
Trail's End (Oaklawn Park)
Though Oaklawn hosts some of the biggest races of the winter and early spring, the one race that feels like it could only happen at Oaklawn is not a Grade 1. It is a $10,000 starter allowance, the traditional final race of the meet — the Trail's End.
The race is Oaklawn's way to acknowledge and thank its fans for another great year. The bugler blows Auld Lang Syne. Instead of a post parade, horses line up on the track, alongside their lead ponies, and face the fans. The race itself then lets the Oaklawn meet linger for as long as it possibly can. After all, it is the longest race of the season, at 1 3/4 miles.
Where the Turf Meets the Surf (Del Mar)
How many tracks have their own theme song, much less one performed by a music superstar who co-founded the racetrack?
Already a star of music and film, Bing Crosby co-founded Del Mar, and was there to greet the fans streaming through the gates when it opened on July 3, 1937. The next year, Crosby recorded a theme song for the track, exhorting people to "take a plane, take a train, take a car."
Though Crosby sold his interest in Del Mar in 1946, he remains central to the track's lore. Not only is a Grade 1 sprint run in his honor, but his theme song still wafts over the loudspeakers before and after the races.
What is your favorite racetrack tradition?
Last week, we asked you about the greatest winner of the Clement L. Hirsch Stakes. Though Beholder also had a posse, Zenyatta took the crown, with 67% of the vote!